Is a taste of ice cream or a sip of hot coffee sometimes a painful experience for you? Does brushing or flossing make you wince occasionally? If so, you may have a common problem called “sensitive teeth“.
For millions of people, sensitive teeth can make life miserable. The pain and discomfort make even favorite hot or cold foods impossible to enjoy. All is not lost. In many cases, sensitive teeth can be successfully treated bringing long sought after relief.
What Causes Sensitive Teeth?
The part of the tooth we can see is covered by a layer of enamel that protects the softer dentine underneath. If the dentine is exposed, a tooth can become sensitive. This usually happens where the tooth and the gum meet and the enamel layer is much thinner.
Here are Some Causes of Teeth Sensitivity.
Toothbrush abrasion – brushing too hard, and brushing from side to side, can cause dentine to be worn away, particularly where the teeth meet the gums. The freshly exposed dentine may then become sensitive.
Dental erosion – this is loss of tooth enamel caused by attacks of acid from acidic food and drinks. If enamel is worn away the dentine underneath is exposed, which may lead to sensitivity.
Gum recession – gums may naturally recede (shrink back), and the roots will become exposed and can be more sensitive. Root surfaces do not have an enamel layer to protect them.
Gum disease – a build-up of plaque or tartar can cause the gum to recede down the tooth and even destroy the bony support of the tooth. Pockets can form in the gums around the tooth, making the area difficult to keep clean and the problem worse.
Tooth grinding – this is a habit which involves clenching and grinding the teeth together. This can cause the enamel of the teeth to be worn away, making the teeth sensitive.
Other Causes of Dental Pain from Teeth Sensitivity
A cracked tooth or filling – a cracked tooth is one that has become broken. A crack can run from the biting surface of a tooth down towards the root. Extreme temperatures, especially cold, may cause discomfort.
Tooth bleaching – some patients have sensitivity for a short time during or after having their teeth bleached. Discuss this with your dentist before having treatment
Preventing Sensitive Teeth (Dentin Hypersensitivity)
The key to preventing tooth sensitivity is to keep the gums from receding. Reducing the pressure we use to brush our teeth helps tremendously. The problem with this is that our tooth brushing is an unconsciously ingrained habit reinforced after decades of brushing and therefore nearly impossible to change.
Dentists advise people to use an advanced electric toothbrushes (plaque remover). These toothbrushes feature pressure sensors that stop the brush when you apply too much pressure. Another option is the Alert toothbrush, which activates a warning light when you brush too hard.
5 Home Remedies for Sensitive Teeth
Bring on the desensitizing toothpaste. Unfortunately, widespread tooth sensitivity due to enamel abrasion or gum-line recession can’t be treated with dental fillings. Instead, try brushing with a desensitizing toothpaste, which you can buy over the counter. These special toothpastes contain ingredients that diminish sensitivity by filling channels (known as tubules) in the dentin.
Try putting some of the toothpaste on your finger or on a cotton swab and spreading it over the sensitive spots before you go to bed. Spit, but don’t rinse. Within a few weeks, your teeth should begin to feel less sensitive.
Try a fluoride rinse. Fluoride rinses, available without a prescription at your local pharmacy or in the dental section of grocery stores, can help decrease sensitivity, especially for people plagued with decay problems. Use it once a day. Swish it around in your mouth, then spit it out.
Sometimes, people with sensitive teeth need a stronger fluoride rinse or gel than the ones available over the counter. For example, some treatments for gum disease, such as root planing (which reduces plaque), can leave sensitive teeth even more sensitive than usual. In such situations, dentists can apply a fluoride gel that helps relieve the problem.
Keep your teeth clean. Plaque, the white gummy substance that forms on teeth, produces an acid that irritates teeth, especially if your choppers are naturally sensitive. Wage a daily attack against plaque by brushing at least twice, preferably right after eating and especially before bed, and flossing at least once.
Use a soft toothbrush. Often, people actually cause tooth sensitivity by brushing with too much force and/or brushing with a hard-bristled brush, which can damage the protective tooth enamel. When the gum-line recedes (often as a natural part of the aging process), exposed dentin becomes even more vulnerable to toothbrush abrasion. Use a brush with the softest bristles you can find, and apply only a small amount of pressure when brushing (actually, a lighter touch also allows the bristles to move more freely and do their job more effectively than when you press too hard).
Say, “Enough!” to snuff. Chewing tobacco, also known as “dip” or “snuff,” is a popular habit in some groups, especially among many male teenagers. They mistakenly believe it’s less harmful than smoking cigarettes. However, in addition to causing mouth cancers, chewing tobacco causes the gums to recede, a major cause of gum sensitivity and decay. Just as there is no safe cigarette, there is no safe tobacco.
Habits like sucking on hard candy, while certainly healthier than chewing snuff, can also cause enamel abrasion and tooth sensitivity.
Treating Sensitive Teeth
Sensitive teeth can be treated. Your dentist may suggest that you try a desensitizing toothpaste, which contains compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve. Desensitizing toothpaste usually requires several applications before the sensitivity is reduced. When choosing toothpaste or any other dental care products, look for those that display the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance–your assurance that products have met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness.
If the desensitizing toothpaste does not ease your discomfort, your dentist may suggest in-office techniques. A fluoride gel, which strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations, may be applied to the sensitive areas of the teeth.
If receding gums cause the sensitivity, your dentist may use agents that bond to the tooth root to “seal” the sensitive teeth. The sealer usually is composed of a plastic material.
In cases where hypersensitivity is severe and persistent and cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend endodontic (root canal) treatment to eliminate the problem.